• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

A rare home schooling post: AP Government & Citizenship

As parents, we make choices for our kids when they are very young with — we hope, we believe — their best interests at heart. I made a decision for Laura shortly after her birth that she recently came to realize was not the right choice for her, and we’ve spent a good deal of time and money, along with a recent “field trip” to the nearest U.S. consulate to renounce U.S citizenship, so that Laura could correct that situation and bring her citizenship in line with her reality.

Laura, who is 18-1/2 and just graduated from high school, was born in Canada and is a Canadian by birth. She has never lived in the U.S. and never had a U.S. passport. But she was also — by accident of birth to a (then) U.S. citizen, who then (sigh) applied for a consular Report of a Birth Abroad — a dual citizen. Laura realized over the past year, after much study (her “curriculum” selections and recommended reading list are below) and reflection, that she is not a dual citizen but a Canadian, and a Canadian only, who has only ever lived in Canada, and who does not believe in divided national loyalties. And she wanted to begin adult life with as few impediments as possible. She had read that renouncing is easiest between the ages of 18 and 18-1/2, because the paperwork requirements are much simpler, so she started the process last year around the time of her birthday, and after submitting all of the required paperwork last November, was given an appointment for last week; that’s a wait of more than six months for the appointment and some locations, like Toronto, have even longer waits. At last week’s appointment, she was told the wait time to receive her official Certificate of Loss of Nationality, which will be dated with last week’s appointment date, will be four to six months. For 2013, there was a 221 percent increase, a record number, of dual American citizens renouncing or relinquishing their American citizenship. In 2015, there were approximately 4,300 expatriations.

The past several years have been basically an Advanced Placement course on U.S. government, politics and law, and citizenship, covering early American history (“no taxation without representation” is apparently a variable concept depending on time and place), constitutional law, patriotism, homeland vs. Homeland, just vs. unjust laws, citizenship-based taxation (U.S. and Eritrea) vs. residence-based taxation (the rest of the world), national sovereignty, personal vs. national privacy and security considerations, and what — or what should — determine citizenship (for example, jus sanguinis, “the right of blood”, or the acquisition of citizenship through parentage; or jus soli, “the right of soil”, or citizenship by virtue of being born in a particular territory. There were also discussions about being Canadian and living in Canada, but having U.S. officials consider everything about you, from your Canadian passport to your Canadian address to your Canadian father, “foreign” or “alien”, when to a Canadian they all mean “home”. It was probably as good a way as any for Laura to figure out what, and where, home is.

This is a very complex issue. I’ll try to write about this as simply as I can, because

  1. there’s a lot of information involved, which can be overwhelming and the temptation to avoid it all can be great;
  2. there’s a lot of misinformation (accidentally as well as on purpose) which, if you follow it, can make make your/your family’s situation worse rather than better, including those who would equate Americans abroad with tax cheats who need to brought into “compliance“;
  3. that misinformation and misunderstanding of the situation confuses many Americans living in the U.S. — including extended family and friends — who don’t understand that there might be very real disadvantages to living overseas with U.S. citizenship; who think Americans abroad concerned about this issue are a bunch of whining complainers and/or tax cheats who don’t want to pay our fair share.

Here’s some background about the situation in general, from the very, very good Isaac Brock Society blog (named for the British major general in the War of 1812 who was responsible for defending Upper Canada against the United States):

The United States is one of two countries in the world that taxes its people no matter where in the world they may reside. The other is Eritrea, which the USA has condemened for terrorism and for its diaspora tax. The majority of US persons who live abroad are not aware of their filing requirements. But recently, the US government has decided to crack down on those who are not in compliance.

But what is more, the US government has begun, since about 2004, to apply with great pressure a long-neglected requirement of 35-year old law called the Bank Secrecy Act. That requirement is FBAR, the foreign bank account report, which the United States government expects annually from those who have accounts outside of the United States which exceed $10,000 in aggregate. The fines for failure to file this form are extortionate, and virtually no US person who lives abroad even knew about FBAR, while most of them, over a certain age, own bank accounts with retirement savings exceeding that amount. The threats of fines and imprisonment has frightened many people who as a result have consulted expensive accountants and tax lawyers to get this mess sorted out, only to face high accounting or legal fees on top of potential fines and back taxes. In 2009 and 2011, the IRS offered voluntary disclosure programs (OVDI). Some who entered into the 2009 OVDI, because of fear of the penatlies, were shocked when the IRS assessed them fines in the tens of thousands, essentially treating them as tax evaders instead of a law abiding citizens in their countries of residence.

For many US expats, renunciation now seems like a really good idea. Why not? Many haven’t lived in the US for years and now they have few ties there except perhaps some family members. So they want to renounce their citizenship only to find that the laws regarding expatriation are confusing and that the exit tax requirements are at best complicated and invasive, and at worst, extortionate and utterly in violation of their right to expatriate.

The media coverage of this issue has been uneven. There have a been a few balanced stories, but most of the time, the media has merely publicized the purposes of the US government; this is especially true of US media sources. The Canadian media has generally done a much better job of grabbing the attention of the world about the abuses of the US government. That being said, even the Canadian media sometimes falls into the IRS trap of projecting fear in order to force compliance. Overall, we regret when the media offers only condemnation and fear without telling the story from the side of the victims or informing them of their rights and alternatives.

US persons abroad also face US border guards who are starting to put pressure on all those who have a US place of birth to travel only on a US passport, even if the person has not been a US person for decades–an arbitrary change of policy making those who relinquished citizenship into would-be loyal taxpayers to a profligate government that has to borrow 40 cents on every dollar its spends.

As with a number of bureaucratic decisions, there is a lot of noise about the intent to target “big fish” and tax cheats, and much of the recent legislation including FATCA seems intended as retribution for the decision by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin but the reality is that it’s mostly little fish, with bank accounts and mortgages, and “foreign” spouses and children, who are getting caught in the net.

From Nancy L. Greene’s 2009 article, “Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept”,

Expatriation was initially a form of nation-building. For the United States to justify its break from Britain, it had, among other things, to legitimate the notion of leaving one’s country of birth. Expatriation was thus seen as a form of inclusion in America, with former British subjects in mind. Like citizenship itself, expatriation was both a theoretical/rhetorical and a practical/legal issue for the early state. The Declaration of Independence, which complained that King George III had impeded the peopling of the colonies (“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither”), was a declaration of the right of emigration. In the ensuing decades, in order to consolidate American independence and citizenship, expatriation from Britain had to be deemed a legal, indeed natural, right for both the state and the individual. The United States had to counter both politically and philosophically the competing British claim that birth- right or perpetual allegiance bound those born under the crown everlastingly to it. This essentially feudal notion, most forcefully expounded by the famous jurist Sir Edward Coke in 1608, regarded expatriation as a moral travesty and a legal im- possibility. It would take several decades for the new nation to impose its view that expatriation was in turn a natural right. The right of exit was the necessary corollary to a right of entry, and a Lockean notion of free will underwrote the definition of the new American citizen. …

The United States may have been founded on a notion of the right to leave, leading Albert O. Hirschman [the German-born economist and author of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty] to speak of a “national love affair with exit,” but attitudes about leave-takers depend on who is doing the exiting, from where, to where, and when.

* * * * * * * * *

A recommended reading list for dual citizens of all ages:

“The Negative Implications of U.S. Citizenship on Those Starting Out in Life”

“My Thoughts on U.S. Citizenship for Young People”

“Letter of a Canadian Businessman to his Dual U.S./Canada Citizen Son on the Occasion of his High School Graduation” (and all comments at the Isaac Brock Society blog are always well worth reading)

Isaac Brock Society blog, and particularly helpful posts from the Isaac Brock Society blog (don’t miss the conversations going on in the comments, which are always helpful):

“Introduction to FATCA for Canadians”

“How to Renounce/Relinquish” (FYI children born dual must renounce, not relinquish)

Introductory Material on: Citizenship-Based Taxation (vs. Residence-Based Taxation), FATCA; A Synopsis of John Richardson’s Info Session (see below for more); A History of Isaac Brock Society

IBS’s consulate report directory and CLN delivery time chart (aka “What to Expect, at the Consulate, When You’re Expatriating”); “currently 240 pages of first-hand accounts of renunciation/relinquishment appointments, arranged by consulate location, along with further information and links to the required Dept of State forms and the Dept of State manuals used by the consulates in processing CLN applications, with an appendix containing a chart of CLN delivery time as reported by consulate location.”

John Richardson’s Citizenship Solutions blog; Mr. Richardson, an American, is a Toronto lawyer who gives frequent, very good information sessions entitled “Information sessions: Solving the problems of U.S. citizenship”. And John himself is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. He also writes for the Isaac Brock Society blog.

A new blog, The Dualist, an early 20-something born in the U.S. who left there at the age of 13 to live permanently in the UK, now dealing with

the options facing me – a UK citizen living, working and paying taxes in the United Kingdom – when I had just discovered that I am subject to US tax rules which say that no matter where I live, I should be annually filing federal income tax returns to the USA’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reporting detailed information about all of my UK bank accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. These rules apply to me because I am an American as well as a British citizen. The US government considers me to be a US taxpayer not unlike an American living within the States, even if I haven’t lived in the US since I was a child, rarely visit, make no income in the US and have no assets there. The fact that I hadn’t been filing meant I was considered as a delinquent non-filer under US tax policy.

In outlining the different options I had for addressing this newly-discovered ‘delinquent non-filer’ status, I showed that even though I was a young person from a normal background just starting out in adult life, there were no easy solutions or certain outcomes. Briefly, the main options were to stay outside the system, enter the system and try to live compliantly, or enter the system with the intention of renouncing my US citizenship in the future.

American international tax lawyer Phil Hodgen’s blog posts about expatriation, including a recent 10-part series by an Irish-American 17-year-old who renounced as a minor, aka “The Expatriation Chronicles of an Accidental American”

San Francisco tax lawyer Robert Wood’s articles at Forbes, such as this one, this one, and this one

The difference between renouncing and relinquishing explained, at IBS and at Citizenship Solutions blog; children born dual can only renounce, not relinquish

One needs to be be very, very careful about the “help” one seeks with this issue because there are many predatory and ignorant accountants and lawyers whose help will net you only large bills and more rather than fewer headaches. There are good, knowledgeable, helpful people and resources available, often free or inexpensive, and this list includes a number of them. Read widely and ask questions before you make any decisions.

And, on the lighter side:

Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next (2015)

Canadian Bacon, Michael Moore’s fictional precursor to his latest, starring the late, great, Canadian John Candy

Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans, available on YouTube

 

* The fee for renouncing or for relinquishing is currently US $2,350, payable in cash or by credit card (which must be in the renunciant’s name). In September 2014, the U.S. State Department hiked the renunciation fee by 422 percent, from U.S. $450 to U.S. $2,350. The fee to relinquish in recent years went from 0 to $450 to, last year, $2,350. The current fee is more than 20 times the average of other high-income countries, and the U.S. government has collected about U.S. $12.6 million in fees since the Autumn 2014 fee hike.

Today in Canadian History

A new podcast from Calgary radio station CJSW: Today in Canadian History.  The podcasts began on July 1, Canada Day, and will last a year. The series is produced by Joe Burima and Marc Affeld. Original music created by Calgary jazz musicians Simon Fisk, Steve Fletcher, and Jon May, and original (very cute) artwork, which you can see at the blog, is provided by Reid Blakley.

From the initial blog post,

Today in Canadian History was launched on Canada Day of 2010. Each episode of the series contains an interview with a Canadian professor, journalist, author, or “everyday” historian and focuses on a unique event or moment that took place on that day in Canadian history. To date, the series has received contributions from over sixty individuals from across Canada.

As a podcast and radio series, Today in Canadian History presents Canada’s past in a unique and accessible manner. The series is designed to be a first step to learning more about our past. We would like to remind Canadians not just about what makes our country great, but what makes it complicated, beautiful, diverse, and ours.

Podcast subjects since the beginning of the month have included Canada Day, the Battle of the Somme, hockey player George Edward “Chief” Armstrong, Norman Bethune, Roy McGregor on the 1917 disappearance of artist Tom Thomson, Pierre Berton’s birthday, Rupert’s Land, and the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Think of it as a maple leaf a day…

For Canadiana fans

To be published in May, Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing by Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman (University of Toronto Press, May 29, 2010); $25.04 in paperback, $59.57 in hardcover.

I’ve already placed my order.

According to this press release for a grant the authors received in 2008, the book

is the first interdisciplinary history of children’s publishing in Canada from 1800 to the present, interweaving Canadian history with the history of Canadian literature and publishing, illustration and design, childhood and education, and children’s librarianship. Not only historically situated, Picturing Canada documents recent developments in children’s publishing and the book trade, the emergence of Aboriginal Canadian publishing, Canadian publishers in the US market, the decline of school libraries, and government funding to libraries and publishers.

The book sounds like a very useful resource for those of us who like, or need, to use older, out-of-print books in our studies, especially illustrated ones to use with younger children.  And when it comes to children’s books on Canadian history, unfortunately most of the better books tend to be out-of-print.

And I love the cover illustration.

Today

On the radio: CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition”, finally back from a long summer holiday, featured an interview with Winifred Gallagher, author of the new Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, who writes, “Few things are as important to your quality of life as your choices about how to spend the precious resource of your free time.”  I was busy concentrating on the discussion and so didn’t write anything down, but afterwards found something similar from her New York Times interview in May,

 

“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime.

“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”

During her cancer treatment several years ago, Ms. Gallagher said, she managed to remain relatively cheerful by keeping in mind James’s mantra as well as a line from Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

“When I woke up in the morning,” Ms. Gallagher said, “I’d ask myself: Do you want to lie here paying attention to the very good chance you’ll die and leave your children motherless, or do you want to get up and wash your face and pay attention to your work and your family and your friends? Hell or heaven — it’s your choice.”

On the streets of Canada:  the Terry Fox annual run.  Laura sang O Canada before the run, and she’s pleased and proud to have been asked.  Terry Fox was 18 in 1977 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, and his right leg amputated six inches above the knee.  He decided to begin a “Marathon of Hope” across Canada to raise money for cancer research, one of the first such cross-country charity efforts.  He began his marathon in April 1980 in St. Johns, Newfoundland.  But after 143 days and 3,339 miles, of running, Terry Fox had to stop on September 1, at Thunder Bay, Ontario, because the cancer had reappeared in his lungs. Terry was forced to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had appeared in his lungs. He died 10 months later at the age of 22. But the marathon continues.  Terry Fox would have been 50 this year, the same age as Tom.

 On the Plains of Abraham: This weekend marks the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Quebec in the Seven Years’ War (aka the French and Indian War).  The province weaseled out of a planned re-enactment of the Battle when separatists threatened to disrupt the proceedings, which I wrote about here back in March. Then the province weaseled out of the replacement activity, a weekend “Moulin a paroles”, a 24-hour readathon of 140 documents about the province’s history since 1759, because one of the documents was the FLQ’s 1970 manifesto. Much scope for all sides in rewriting history in Quebec and making a mockery of the provincial motto, Je me souviensFrom yesterday’s editorial in The Globe & Mail,

If it wasn’t for the controversy, tomorrow’s 250th anniversary of the Battle on the Plains of Abraham might go entirely unnoticed. There have been no stamps, no coins and almost no recognition from Ottawa that anything important might have happened on Sept. 13, 1759.

This official disregard for the Battle of Quebec, born of a fear of angering a few perpetually aggrieved separatists, is unfortunate. Not only does it represent a crucial moment in the modern history of Canada but, more importantly, it marks the birth of the great Canadian spirit of cultural accommodation.

From a purely historical perspective, it is impossible to ignore the significance of the battle. It settled, once and for all, the question of which crown would control Canada. Further, the cost of winning the war proved so onerous for the British treasury that it necessitated a host of new taxes on American colonies — setting in motion the events of 1776. The trajectories of both Canada and the United States were determined that day.

More than the historical fact of Canada was decided on the battlefield, however. Our character was defined there as well.

In draft articles of capitulation drawn up before the battle, the victor, Major-General James Wolfe, sketched a new model of British occupation. Despite his reputation as a brutal military leader, Maj.-Gen. Wolfe was prepared to preserve Quebec’s unique cultural character and population.

“There shall be no innovations in religious matters or any interruption of Divine Service, as it is now preach’d in the Colony,” he wrote. Such generosity had not been found at the fall of Louisbourg a year earlier, where the British razed the city and expelled the citizenry. Maj-Gen. Wolfe’s more liberal position has proven enduring. It defined the official surrender of Quebec City after his death, as well as the capitulation of Montreal a year later. It found its way into the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and, later, Canada’s Constitution.

This was not an arrangement inspired entirely by generosity. The British army hoped to avoid the hassle of becoming an occupying force. Co-operation was far more appealing than further confrontation. After the battle, French hospitals served the wounded from both sides, with bilingual British soldiers conscripted as orderlies.

Of course not every French habitant willingly accepted British rule, just as today many Quebec nationalists still cling to an emotional connection with the Conquest, in spite of more rational arguments.

Nonetheless, the events of Sept. 13, 1759 and its immediate aftermath marked the origin of minority rights and religious freedom in Canada, as well as the acknowledgment that governing this diverse country requires an appreciation for what may be possible, given the circumstances. It is certainly cause for commemoration.

You can help commemorate the battle by watching the 1957 National Film Board production, Wolfe and Montcalmhere; watching the CBC documentary Battle for a Continent; and by reading the current issue of the Canadian history magazine, The Walrus. In his introduction to this month’s issue, Editor John MacFarlane writes,

The history of Canada is, for many Canadians, terra incognita. In far too many of the country’s high schools, the subject is now, like music and drama, an “option.” This would explain the Angus Reid survey in which 61 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 were unable to distinguish between Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Laurence Olivier. And yet even these poor souls — young people who probably could not recall the date of Confederation (1867), the name of the last province admitted (Newfoundland), or the year we repatriated the Constitution from Great Britain (1982) — even they might know a thing or two about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

What took place on September 13, 1759, on a plateau overlooking the St. Lawrence River, upstream from Quebec City, is an iconic moment in the country’s historical narrative: literally the beginning of the story of Canada. Britain and France were vying for North America; Wolfe attacked Montcalm; Wolfe prevailed, although both generals were mortally wounded; the British went on to capture Montreal; New France was dead. But there is so much more. I was never taught, for instance, that Montcalm, badly outnumbered, joined the battle without waiting for reinforcements. Or that Wolfe, who had already led the British to a great victory at Louisbourg, had numerous detractors, including the Duke of Newcastle, who told King George II that Wolfe was mad. The king is said to have responded, “Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals.”

The battle’s rich narrative detail was not lost on Helen Humphreys as she set out to reimagine it on this its 250th anniversary (“On the Plains of Abraham,1759,” page 22). … She is a brilliant writer — The New Yorker has called her work lyrical — and an obvious choice for this assignment. While she was born in England, where schoolchildren are more familiar with the Battle of Agincourt than the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, she came to Canada when she was three and has emerged as one of the country’s foremost creators of historical fiction. …

We asked Humphreys to write the story after learning that the National Battlefields Commission, a federal agency, had cancelled plans to mark the anniversary with a re-enactment. Quebec sovereignists had threatened to disrupt the event, calling it “federalist propaganda.” The commission’s capitulation illustrates what is wrong with the teaching of history in Canada — namely, that we would rather not teach it if there is a chance that doing so might cause offence. This, as the historian Jack Granatstein laments, diminishes us as a nation. You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. The outcome of the battle on the Plains of Abraham 250 years ago is a matter of historical record. What is up for debate is its meaning.

Read the rest of Mr. MacFarlane’s introduction here, and read Helen Humphreys‘ story of the battle here.  You can also read the aforementioned Jack Granatstein on “How We Teach History Matters Most”. For more on the subject, get his book, Who Killed Canadian History?

A history of Canada in folksong

Shortly after the Music Festival wrapped up earlier this month, Laura started talking about song choices for next month.  While I was tempted to ask her to change the subject after weeks and months the practicing, rehearsing, and performing, I was happy to see her excited about the festival and interested in finding some new and different songs.

For a while now I’ve been looking for a good source of Canadian folk music, because the songs are part of my children’s heritage and because they’re such a fascinating way to study history.  But it’s not a particularly popular subject for some strange reason.  Finally, poking through the library system’s database, I stumbled across “A Folksong Portrait of Canada”, an out-of-print three-CD set of songs compiled by Samuel Gesser, the impresario and record producer who had been the Canadian distributor for Folkways Records in the fifties and sixties, now part of Smithsonian-Folkways (which has a nifty Tools for Teaching page for educators).  The songs had all appeared on such LPs as “Canada’s Story in Song” by Alan Mills and Edith Fulton Fowke, “Songs and Ballads of Newfoundland” by Ken Peacock, “Folksongs of Ontario” by Edith Fowke, “Folksongs of the Canadian North Woods” by Samuel Gesser and Wade Hemsworth.  Many of these can still be found and purchased as CDs at, or downloaded from, Smithsonian-Folkways, but for us the three-CD set through the library is an easier, more affordable option, especially after factoring in the exchange rate and shipping.

The CDs are arranged geographically, with songs of the Atlantic Provinces and of Quebec on the first disc, songs of Ontario and of the Prairie Provinces on the second disc, and songs of British Columbia & Yukon of Native Peoples on the third disc.  The three discs include 94 songs by 70 singers, including Alan Mills, Wade Hemsworth, Kenneth Peacock, and Hélène Baillargeon (the star of the celebrated early Canadian children’s television show, “Chez Hélène”).

The set (Smithsonian-Folkways, 1994) is delightful, perfect for anyone with an interest in folk music, Canadian history, and Canadian singers. Check your library when you have the chance.  And a belated thanks to Mr. Gesser, who died about a year ago at the age of 78, for his efforts to preserve, protect, and promote Canadian music and Canadian history.

And a worthwhile link, Teachwithmusic.ca. Here’s the Canadian history section.

You don’t say

The New York Times discovers after 75 years that in hard times, people “just want to hide in a very dark place”, particularly a movie theater.

Researchers have discovered the shocking news that children learn better if they’re allowed to have recess, and “other research suggests that all children, not just those with attention problems, can benefit from spending time in nature during the school day.”

— However, all bets are off if you live in the North where recess is apparently dangerous. According to another study, this one in the Journal of School Health based on 2002 figures, more “than 4,000 children between the ages of five and 19 were injured in a year in Ottawa-area schools”. Then again, this is no longer the country of the intrepid Sam Steele and  Laura Secord (she could have put an eye out or twisted an ankel running through the woods) but the safety tuque and the campaign to wear helmets while sledding.

— Apparently the “most popular” emailed article at The New York Times this weekend was Friday’s op-ed column, “The Great Solvent North” by Theresa Tedesco, chief business correspondent of the Canadian newspaper, The National Post, in which she writes, “Canada, whose banking system had long been notorious for its stodgy practices and government coddling, is now being celebrated for those very qualities.”  Of course, there’s banking and then there are pension funds, and interestingly this week brought news that “Canada’s largest pension fund — Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec — lost a quarter of its $155-billion pension fund asset” in 2008.  According to The Toronto Star, the Caisse’s “recent ambitions have led it to aggressively sink billions into novel financial instruments, such as nonbank asset-backed commercial paper – short-term corporate debts that turned toxic.”

— Not surprisingly, not many Canadian politicians or oil and gas executives seem to subscribe to National Geographic.  Which is the only way to explain why the hullabaloo over the current issue’s photo essay on Alberta’s tar sands, “Scraping Bottom”, was raised only when the issue hit the newstands last week, not when it hit mailboxes earlier.  What is surprising is how the lines have been drawn over the article, though it helps to remember that line about politics and bedfellows: new Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff* not coincidentally looking for votes on a swing through Alberta and quirky CBC commentator Rex Murphy calling foul, and the Alberta government and The Edmonton Journal‘s editorial page calling fair.  And silence from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, last seen at an Ottawa press conference with President Obama throwing the Bush regime under the bus,

We will be watching what the United States does [regarding the environment] very — with a lot of — with a lot of interest for the obvious reasons that, as we all know, Canada has had great difficulty developing an effective regulatory regime alone in the context of a integrated continental economy. It’s very hard to have a tough regulatory system here when we are competed with — competing with an unregulated economy south of the border.

Also interesting to note that it’s an article with photographs, including two large foldouts, that makes such a splash.  And not any of the equally dramatic but more or less pictureless articles on the oil sands over the years, such as Elizabeth Kolbert‘s “Unconventional Crude” for The New Yorker in 2007 and The Guardian‘s “Mud, sweat and tears” the same year.  A thousand words, indeed.

Better late than never department: I have a post in my draft folder about this, but each time I pull it up I start to gnash my teeth.  Here’s what the non-Canadian The Economist has to say on the subject, with less teeth-gnashing and garment-rending on my part (I’ve added some links to the original article),

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was brief and not all that bloody, but it was historic. On September 13th 1759, France’s loss of its colonial territories in North America was set in motion when British redcoats scaled cliffs protecting Quebec City and defeated troops and militia loyal to Louis XV. A modern-day battle over the battle, which concluded on February 17th, lasted somewhat longer and ended very differently. It flared up over plans to mark the battle’s 250th anniversary with a re-enactment, and ended with Quebec separatists crying victory and Canada’s federal government beating a hasty retreat.

The re-enactment was to have been the centrepiece of a summer-long commemoration of 1759’s events. But to some Quebeckers commemoration sounded like celebration. “Dancing on the graves of our ancestors,” was how the Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (RRQ), a group of sovereigntist hardliners, described it. They demanded the re-enactment’s cancellation. For several weeks debate raged. The re-enactment was an exercise to pay tribute to the fallen and educate the living about one of Canada’s most important episodes, said its supporters. These included 2,000 or so mostly American “re-enacters”, the federal government and Quebec City’s mayor, who was loth to lose millions of dollars in tourist spending.

Opponents, and most of the French-language press, cursed the proposed re-enactment as a “repugnant federalist propaganda operation”. When it reached a point where its organisers were receiving threats—including having “our bayonets shoved up our butts”, according to their leader—the National Battlefields Commission, which administers the Plains of Abraham, cancelled the mock battle and other activities planned for the summer. Or, as the Gazette, Quebec’s only English daily, wrote, it “cravenly surrendered the field”.

If there was an edifying component to the brouhaha, it lay in displaying the different light in which the Conquest, as it is known, is seen by those on opposite sides of the Quebec independence debate. For many sovereigntists it was the beginning of domination by the wretched English, and of the struggle for cultural survival. Federalists, however, both Francophone and Anglophone, argue that after the Conquest the French of New France got rights they could only dream of under the exploitative, authoritarian ancien régime.

Whatever the case, the re-enactment was probably doomed from the moment in mid-January when the RRQ pledged “to go on the warpath” against it. Support for Quebec’s sovereignty spikes whenever it is felt that English Canada is taking it for granted or not respecting it. Wise federal politicians are thus wary of anything that may rile Quebec sensitivities. Nevertheless, a few cabinet ministers took opposing positions on the re-enactment.

Quebec’s premier, Jean Charest, was shrewd enough not to get involved. He simply announced that he would not attend. This is a decision Generals Wolfe and Montcalm, the commanders of the British and French forces in 1759, should probably also have made; both died of wounds suffered on the Plains of Abraham

A few thoughts. First, outside of Quebec in the rest of the country this article didn’t make much of a splash at all. Second, how disappointing to live in a country, a world, where some can confuse commemoration with celebration, and where hundreds of years later there are still such sensitivities over historical facts. I can’t help but think of the bicentary commemoration of the Battle of Trafalgar four years ago, when the famous sea battle was re-enacted, as the BBC noted, “between a blue and a red team, rather than Britain versus France, in order not to offend the French”.  And yet there’s the feeling that confusion has been raised over the meaning of words, the prospect of insult to ancestors has been raised and bandied about merely to make separatist, sovereigntist hay. And the rest of the country, especially the part scratching its collective head every so often over Quebec, doesn’t know enough of its own history to care.  As Hugh MacLennan wrote in Rivers of Canada in 1974 (almost 30 years after his Two Solitudes), “Ours is not the only nation which has out-travelled its own soul and now is forced to search frantically for a new identity. No wonder, for so many, the past Canadian experience has become not so much a forgotten thing as an unknown thing.”

Anyone moved to learn more might be interested to know that the other weekend The Ottawa Citizen excerpted part of D. Peter Macleod’s new book, Northern Armageddon: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  You can read the excerpt here.

UPDATED to add: I knew I forgot something. Here’s a birthday present from the National Film Board of Canada: “The Fate of America: Two well-known Quebec artists, a filmmaker and a playwright, look at various aspects of the story of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Whose version should prevail? Is history best served by documentary or fiction?”

Remembrance Day 2008

Library and Archives Canada, in conjunction with Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), has an online exhibition, Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918 featuring audio interviews and written transcripts, as well as photographs.  The exhibition is organized into seven “interview themes”: Second Ypres, Vimy Ridge, War in the Air, The Somme, Trench Warfare, Passchendaele (Third Ypres), and Perspectives on War.

The exhibition is based on the CBC‘s 1964-1965 radio broadcasts In Flanders Fields, a series of interviews with veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

The Library and Archives Canada website includes a number of other online virtual exhibitions, including The Battle of Passchendaele, Canada and the First World War, and Faces of War.

Also online: The Canadian Letters and Images Project, a virtual archive of the Canadian war experience, from the Riel Rebellion and Boer War to World War I, World War II, and the Korean War (one letter).  The project began in 2000 at the Department of History at Vancouver Island University. In November 2003 the Project was very pleased to bring in as partners the History Department at The University of Western Ontario.

The following is a letter in the collection written by Flight Sergeant Harry Hansell of Vulcan, Alberta.  He was 19 when he enlisted with the RCAF in 1942. He was 20 years old when he and his crew were shot down on a raid over Germany in September 1943.

May 21st, 1943

Dear Dad:

I received your letter of the 20th and was very glad to have got one. I haven’t received any letters yet for about 2 weeks. I am glad that Mary got my picture. I have never met a girl that could stand up to her yet, and I don’t think I ever will.

I can’t tell you what l am doing, but I am not in the tail, but in the mid upper turret. I might say I am in the front line now, please don’t worry.

I received mother’s letter and got the address but I only had 5 days’ leave and that was taken up by travelling to the next station. I wish mother would send me some parcels. All the lads are getting them but me. I found my kit bag just as I was leaving the other station. So I got all my personal belongings. It’s all just about dirty laundry. I haven’t stayed in one place long enough to get it all done. I have a very fine crew of fellows. They are all Sgt. just as I. There is seven in the crew all together. I hope my picture turned out all right in the paper. I sure want to see it.

I am not going to write to Mary so much because you can’t tell what may happen, but I will nevertheless continue to write very often. I sure am very proud of her. By the way, I would like to know why Ruth is quitting school. I am doing my part so that she can have the privilege to go to school. I wish now that I was still in school. You tell her that she can’t quit school just as she likes. What do you think the war is for? You tell her she just can’t do as she likes along the lines of education. I realized too late about my education and I don’t want her to do the same. Well, there is no more paper.

I will write soon.
Love to all,

Harry

Half of Sgt. Hansell’s file includes family and government letters after his death.  One RCAF letter three years later finally gives the complete details of the fate of Sgt. Hansell and his crew:

The aircraft crashed on the night of 27th September, 1943 about 1.5 miles South of Eberholsen in a forest. This town is located approximately 22 miles South of Hanover, Germany. The aircraft exploded when it hit the ground and unfortunately individual identification of the crewmen was not possible. Your son, together with his crew, were laid to rest in the Town Cemetery at Eberholsen in a Communal Grave located in the North East corner of the cemetery. The grave is nicely kept and marked by a cross upon which is inscribed the names of the crew.

Previous Farm School posts marking the day:

Remembrance Day 2007

Poetry Friday: Remembrance Day Edition (2007)

Remembrance: “Nothing forgotten” (2006)

Remembrance Day II (2005)

Remembrance Day 2005